What HR Teams Need to Know About the Dark Web

cybercriminals dark web employees HR HR databases HR professionals HR teams IT Learning & Development work devices

As a human resources professional, you may think the dark web isn’t something you have to concern yourself with. In reality, it should be a major consideration for your department. After all, it affects you more directly than you might assume.

What Is the Dark Web?

While you’ve heard of the dark web, you probably don’t know specifics outside of some vague notion that it’s a massive hub of criminal activity. For the most part, your assumption is correct—but it’s also more complicated than that. Understanding the difference between the deep web and the dark web might help you realize what’s at stake.

The Deep Web

The dark web begins with the deep web—the area of the internet hidden from search engines. It might surprise you that up to 99% of the internet is inaccessible to users like yourself. While it sounds nefarious, the reason is relatively innocent. It mainly consists of private online accounts, school databases, internal company networks, and subscription-based content.

The Dark Web

In reality, the dark web makes up only a fraction of the deep web. To navigate it, you must use a Tor browser and a virtual private network. Also, you must know precisely where you’re going because most dark web pages are hidden away or invite-only. Since 60% of the dark web contains illegal content, users have good reason to conceal themselves.

Why Should HR Care About the Dark Web?

As an HR professional, you may feel information security isn’t your job. While you’d be justified in passing the responsibility to the IT or cybersecurity departments, your commitment could help your organization avoid financial trouble and keep employees safe from cybercriminals.

The HR department should care about the dark web because it affects you and the staff. Data breaches can lead to non-compliance, resulting in costly fines. When employees’ details are posted on the dark web, their identities, financial security and privacy become forfeit. Unfortunately, many cybercriminals target HR databases for this information.

If you’re like most HR departments, you probably don’t have adequate security measures in place. In 2023, only 13% of the world had data protection. In this scenario, employees may have the means and reasons to take legal action against your organization for negligence. Even though you’re not an IT professional, you must safeguard their data.

Business Critical Insights About the Dark Web

The three main things you need to know about the dark web as an HR professional revolve around data, insider threats, and secrecy.

The Data Marketplace

The HR department is a common target for cybercriminals because it’s a guaranteed repository of personally identifiable information and financial details. It’s not uncommon for the number of people who must be notified of a breach to be several times greater than the number of current employees because the team holds onto data for years after people leave.

Once cybercriminals steal data, they almost always take it to the dark web to sell or trade it. The number of people willing to pay for it this way is what makes it so valuable. You should be aware of this practice because it can result in identity theft, compliance issues, financial fraud, and legal troubles. Knowing the risks may help you navigate this complex issue.

Recruitment Strategies

Many HR teams don’t realize cybercriminals use the dark web to gain a foothold in their brands by acquiring insiders to do their dirty work. Most efforts target technical staff for their unparalleled knowledge of internal systems and security measures. In fact, 61% of the dark web job ads posted from 2020 to 2022 were seeking developers—and offering salaries of up to $20,000 per month in return.

Covert Operations

If your business is like most, you won’t know about activity that impacts you until it’s too late. Take TELUS—a Canadian conglomerate with over 100,000 employees—for example. It had to investigate a potential breach after discovering a series of posts on the dark web. The poster claimed they had information on every employee and was selling over 76,000 unique emails.

A few days later, the poster asked for $7,000 for the stolen employee database, $6,000 for 770 payroll records—which included data on the company’s president—and $50,000 for the data they allegedly copied from private file sharing and messaging systems. TELUS had no idea a breach had occurred until its data was already being sold on the dark web.

Tips for Defending Against the Dark Web

As an HR professional, there are a few steps you can take to defend against the dark web.

1.    Clean up Data Storage

Does your team keep records and employee data long after it’s no longer useful? Once laws and compliance regulations no longer bind you, get rid of old information. This small effort can limit the scope of data breaches.

2.    Raise Dark Web Awareness

Educate staff on the risks the dark web poses to them as individuals and employees. Provide them with a short guide or infographic to help them understand the basics. They should learn how to protect their information online and what to do after a data breach. Consider offering refresher courses quarterly or annually.

3.    Monitor the Dark Web

Since many sites are invite-only, you can’t manually search dark web websites to see if your organization’s data is being sold. Fortunately, you can use monitoring tools or services to scan these hidden corners of the internet and receive alerts when information is compromised.

4.    Provide Work Devices

Work with the IT team and board to provide employees with work laptops or phones. Being able to restrict downloads, visitable websites, and data access prevents them from using risky or compromised platforms to save or send corporate information. You can also ensure each device has robust built-in security measures and receives regular updates.

Safeguard Your Organization From the Dark Web

You don’t ever want employee information ending up where cybercriminals can trade and sell it. Do your part to protect your enterprise from the dark web by working with the IT team and staff to safeguard their data.

Zac Amos is the Features Editor at ReHack and a regular contributor at TalentCulture, AllBusiness, and VentureBeat. He covers HR tech, cybersecurity, and AI. For more of his work, follow him on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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